A closer look at the NHL’s new rules

match point

The NHL has told fans it is going to deliver “a whole new game.” In order to deliver on this promise and lure fans back to the seats, the league has implemented a series of rule changes to improve the on-ice product.

The actual effects of these changes will only become evident as time goes on, but in the meantime, here are some potential advantages and disadvantages we see with the some of the changes.

Due to the league’s emphasis on improving the flow of the game, several of the rules aim to reduce stoppages in play.

Icing was identified as a problem by both the players and the league.

The good: The new rule proposes that races to have icing waved off will no longer be to the puck, but rather to the goal line. Players no longer have to be engaged with—or even near to—each other to win the race. This should reduce dangerous collisions and thus increase safety, even if the idea of two players on opposite sides of the ice racing to the line does seem slightly unorthodox.

The bad: What is less attractive is the NHL’s decision to give discretion to the linesmen to wave off icing calls when it is deemed that a sufficient effort was made at connecting a pass. Like any discretion call, it is likely to create controversy due to perceived inconsistencies.

The ugly: The final aspect of the icing rule is that the team that ices the puck will not be allowed a line-change during the subsequent break in play. This is unreasonable. It will hinder a coach’s ability to match lines, and why a league which is advocating flow wants to leave exhausted players on the ice is beyond us.

Play in the neutral zone has also been changed drastically.

The good: The neutral zone has been contracted by four feet in order to increase the area of the offensive zone, facilitating more offensive hockey. The less neutral zone the better. It will not make it easier to play stifling defensive hockey, and it may even open the game up.

The better: The red line has been removed to open up the neutral zone. Two-line passes will now be permitted, allowing for longer passes and potentially more breakaways. Some see it as a way of breaking the hated neutral zone trap. Once again, it’s hard to argue with the change. It’s been a long time coming.

The best: The league has decided to revert to the old tag-up offside rule, under which the puck can be dumped into the offensive zone—while offensive players are in it—without a whistle. Players must “tag up” at the blue line before resuming their attack.

This is the most effective measure taken to reduce stoppages in play.

Goaltenders are the big losers in the deal.

The good: Their equipment has been scaled down by 11 per cent of its total size. Although goalies will adapt quickly enough, it will give players more open net to shoot at. This rule is likely to be relatively inconsequential.

The bad: The new rules are much more strict when it comes to goalies freezing the puck unnecessarily. Again discretion is an issue. These calls are solely in the hands of referees. It is entirely possible that it will not be enforced when it counts, much like the fast faceoff rule from last season. Otherwise, goalies will likely play it safe and freeze the puck anyway, leading to penalties which are trivial at best.

The ugly: One new rule limits the area in which a goalie can handle the puck to a trapezoidal area behind the net. This is unfortunate. A select few NHL goalies have honed their puck-handling skills to the point where they are a great asset to their teams. To restrict this ability limits netminders to a common denominator. Telling Martin Brodeur he can’t handle the puck freely is like telling Al MacInnis he can’t take slap shots anymore.

For better or for worse, NHL hockey will be a whole new game.

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